Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-768ffcd9cc-6vg6l Total loading time: 0.483 Render date: 2022-12-03T07:13:45.672Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Article contents

Days of Reckoning in Russian and American Novellas: A Cross-Cultural Triptych

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 July 2009

Get access

Extract

In saul bellow's novella, Seize the Day, Tommy Wilhelm, a preposterously superfluous, suffering man, articulates a belief in truth that postmodern literary and cultural critics generally disavow. Wilhelm conceives of truth as a vaguely reified “Something” - an object of size, located in space, and accessible to the human gaze. Throughout his fateful day of reckoning, Wilhelm hotly pursues this oxymoronic reification, following small and seemingly foolish signs, like a man's hat bobbing up in a crowd, until at last he discovers the ultimate reality he has been seeking - truth simultaneously embodied and disembodied by death. This ambiguous representation affects Wilhelm profoundly, consummating “his heart's ultimate need” but sundering his physical being. His vulnerable creaturely body convulses and seems to come apart, its disjunct segments independently bending, bowing, twisting, shaking, crippling, swelling, nodding, being clutched. These bodily contortions apparently signify Wilhelm's deliverance from this world to another, a higher, freer, world of “happy oblivion” where he can forget his earthly troubles. In the novella's final tableau, an ecstatically sobbing Wilhelm enters this transcendent realm in his own perverse way: instead of rising to its heights, he sinks. Thus he completes the drowning action with which the novella begins by losing — and finding — himself in undefinable depths. There, murkily, mortality evokes self-love as the essence of truth.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1992

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

NOTES

1. The triptych was written in response to a request for an essay on teaching literary texts from a cross-cultural perspective. The request arrived as I was preparing a series of informal lectures on modern fictions to be given to a group of American and Canadian college alumni with whom I would be touring Soviet Russia. The assumption of the lectures — that a few selected literary texts could provide insights into the culture of the countries of their origin — was made with serious qualifications, which became more considerable and theoretically grounded in the process of writing this essay. Accordingly, the triptych begins with theoretical problems that seem to me inherent in cross-cultural literary criticism and ends with notes that refer to still unresolved issues these problems have raised.

2. Bellow, Saul, Seize the Day (New York: Viking, 1956), pp. 117–18.Google Scholar Subsequent references are given in the text.

3. In his influential essay, “Thick Descriptions,” Clifford Geertz asserts that “culture is not a power, something to which social events, behaviors, institutions, or processes can be causally attributed; it is a context, something within which they can be … described” (The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays [New York: Basic Books, 1973], p. 14)Google Scholar. Though Geertz may seek to separate culture from power, and power from social causality, other critics (New Historicists, for example), search out the sources of power, individual and institutionalized, within the cultures that they describe contextualizing the texts they interpret. Needless to say, Michel Foucault's manifold discussions of power have focused much of postmodern criticism upon its ubiquitous historical influence and its expression and exercise through discourse. Culture may serve as a site for description, as Geertz claims, but that is not to say that description will not, perhaps invariably, locate sites of power. Since I am not proposing to offer a New Historicist critique, I do not focus primarily upon power, though I discuss the way its presence and pressures seem inscribed in the texts.

4. While critics may differ in their definitions of postmodern, they generally agree that the term implies a fundamental questioning, if not outright dismissal of the grounds upon which belief in truth has traditionally been established. This dismissal would invalidate claims, however circumstanced, for the absoluteness or universality of human values, for essentialism, and for the possibility of transcendence. In a definition he considers simplified to the extreme, Jean-François Lyotard describes postmodern, the subject of his “report,” as incredulity toward metanarratives, the most “grand” of which is truth (The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Bennington, Geoff and Massumi, Brian [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984], p. xxiv)Google Scholar. Postmodern theorists in a wide and diverse range of disciplines argue that their subject of study - whether literature, history, anthropology, law, and science, or more specifically, human victimization, to mention only a few examples - has been socially constructed (Kaplan, White, Geertz, LaZarre, Latour, Woolgar, Bumiller). Thus they reject a traditional view that social realities (if such an expression can still have cogency) exist as facts. Rather they discover in their stead historically produced artifacts. As is well known (too well known to require documentation here), a concept of gender as socially constructed underlies contemporary feminist theories, which much as they may differ will agree that gender, as a social construction, is distinguishable from sex as a biological fact. Another “construction,” with a history too complicated to recapitulate, is the reader - or more precisely, “the implied reader,” described by Wolfgang Iser as “a construct and in no way to be identified with any real reader” (The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978], p. 34)Google Scholar. Since constructs come into existence through a dialectic relationship with something hypothesized as other, as reality or truth, truth remains to be reckoned with even as it is being set aside. Iser implicitly brackets the truth of his theory of constructs, or of any theory, as he asserts that “any theory is bound to be in the nature of a construct” (p. x). I cannot tell what “in the nature of” is meant to equivocate here. The final judgment — to use a key term of this essay — on truth is, of course, not in, and a critic like Terry Eagleton who argues, on his own grounds, for the use of a term like truth should be taken into account. Quarreling with poststructuralists who he believes commonly denounce those who “employ words like ‘truth,’ ‘certainty’ and the ‘real,’” Eagleton makes a pragmatic point: “To say there are no absolute grounds for the use of such terms as truth, certainty, reality, and so on is not to say that these words lack meaning or are ineffectual.” It is to make us “prisoners of our own discourse” (Literary Theory: An Introduction [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983], p. 144)Google Scholar. That a discourse intended to show that “man's soul” knows — and has always known — absolute Truth can become a morass of self-subverting metaphors seems to me patently demonstrated by Allan Bloom's language in The Closing of the American Mind. For an analysis of this language, the medium Bloom shares with postmodernists he attacks, see Gelfant, Blanche H., “Allan Bloom's Battle for Man's Soul: Metaphor as Revelation,” New England Review and Bread Loaf Quarterly 12, no. 1 (Autumn 1989): 9397.Google Scholar

5. This is not to deny that pictures and other particularly representationalforms (or forms of action, like dance) can describe and interpret. However, this essay is concerned with written interpretations, such as those created by literary and cultural critics. In attempting to sort out philosophically the meanings of fact, fiction, and truth — while arguing for the “factitiousness of fact” — Nelson Goodman discusses similarities and differences in the ways that the visual arts, music, literature, as well as science, “make” the world they depict or express. See Ways of Worldmaking (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1976), esp. 91107Google Scholar; and Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols (Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett, 1976). esp. pp. 177221Google Scholar. Goodman translates “ineffability” into “density” (Languages of Art, p. 252).Google Scholar

6. In this statement (Geertz, , “Thick Description,” p. 19)Google Scholar, “it” refers to formulations that, apparently, exist prior to and independent of inscription — the act of writing that Clifford considers “central to what anthropologists do in the field and thereafter” (Geertz, Introduction to Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, ed. Clifford, James and Marcus, George E. [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986], p. 2)Google Scholar. In his introduction to Writing Culture, Clifford notes that “[t]he essays of this volume do not claim ethnography is ‘only literature.’ They do insist it is always writing” (p. 26).Google Scholar

7. In the essays of Interpretation of Cultures, Geertz alleges that “cultural forms can be treated as texts, as imaginative works built out of social materials” (“Notes on the Balinese Cockfight,” p. 449)Google Scholar; and that the “concept of culture [he] espouse[s] is essentially a semiotic one … not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning” (“Thick Descriptions,” p. 5)Google Scholar. For a definition and critique of “interpretive anthropology,” see Marcus, George E. and Fisher, Michael M. J., Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), pp. 2540Google Scholar. As Barbara Herrnstein Smith has said (in discussing poetry “as fiction”), “The meanings of ‘interpretation’ are no less multiple than the meaning of ‘meaning’” (On the Margins of Discourse: The Relation of Literature to Language [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978], p. 39)Google Scholar. Some meanings are “historical and determinate,” subject, one would assume, to a cultural critique. Others, “historically indeterminate,” pertain to the “fictiveness” of poetic utterance. To place a literary work of art, of which a poem is paradigmatic, within an historical context in order to “interpret” its cultural meanings deprives it of the aesthetic qualities that define it as art — at least, so John Ellis argues in a work to which Smith refers favorably. If cultural criticism implies (re)placing a text within the context in which it was produced, then in Ellis's view its status as a literary text is jeopardized, if not destroyed: “The one thing that is different about literary texts … is that they are not to be taken as part of the contexts of their origin; and to take them this way is to annihilate the thing that makes them literary texts … they are not just literature misused, they are no longer literature” (Ellis, , The Theory of Literary Criticism: A Logical Analysis [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974], pp. 112–13Google Scholar [emphasis added]). One might conclude from this argument that cultural criticism converts a text into a document.

8. Critics who deal with practical issues like diversifying traditional literary canons usually elide such questions, since they assume that words refer to an understandable social world and not unremittingly to other words (as Derridean postmodern theories contend). Thus, in arguing for the inclusion of “noncanonical texts” within academic curricula, Paul Lauter offers a straightforward answer to the question of why read texts within the context of other texts: because, he says, they “teach us how to view experience through the prisms of gender, race, nationality, and other forms of marginalization” (Canons and Contexts [New York: Oxford University Press, 1991], p. 161 [original emphasis])Google Scholar. By us, Lauter means, presumably, nonmarginalized readers. Those on the margins of American society would learn from reading literary texts “a vital way to gain power in a literate society” (p. 161). In an early essay, I proposed some other reasons for including American ethnic fiction in academic curricula (see “Mingling and Sharing in American Literature: Teaching Ethnic Fiction,” College English 43 [1981]: 763–72).Google Scholar

9. Geertz, , Interpretation of Cultures, pp. 1920.Google Scholar

10. This essay was in process before I read Riffaterre, 's Fictional TruthGoogle Scholar, which provides a sophisticated and esoteric terminology for a process of textual analysis I describe here in ordinary terms. Marcus and Fischer consider a “hunkering down on detail” (p. 118) common not only among anthropologists, but also among “the social and historical sciences” and “generalist cultural critics” (like David Riesman).

11. Their countings and calculations are too various and incessant for this essay to reckon with them all. In addition to money and units of time — minutes, hours, days, and years (Wilhelm looking ahead to eternity) — characters count people, possessions, manuscript pages, the number of typewritten lines on a page; meals and dishes; microscopic salivary gland cells; chemical properties of polymer plastics — among other items.

12. Lukács, Georg, Solzhenitsyn (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1971), p. 15.Google Scholar Limitation of space as well as purpose prevents me from discussing the considerable body of works that Bellow and Solzhenitsyn have produced. Just as the writers concentrate upon one day as emblematic, I would concentrate upon one novella. The choice may be supported by Lukács's arguments that Solzhenitsyn's novella represents an initial or preliminary working out of motifs and materials developed in his monumental novels. Kathryn Feuer admits that (unlike Lukács) she “was not among those who recognized Solzhenitsyn's potential greatness in Ivan Denisovich,” but she now sees it presenting many “essential clues” to the later works. See Feuer, , ed., Solzhenitsyn: A Collection of Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976), p. 15Google Scholar. For a discussion of these clues, see pp. 15–18.

13. In his review of Seize the Day, Alfred Kazin declared Wilhelm's situation representative of “the world we really live in each day” — the “we” referring, presumably, to normative middle-class Americans (“In Search of Light: Review of Seize the Day, New York Times Book Review, 11 18, 1956, pp. 5, 36)Google Scholar. In contrast, however, an English reviewer found Wilhelm's failure “arbitrary” because it fails to reflect “the society that has produced him and… condemned him” (Wyndham, Francis, “Review,” London Magazine 4 [1957]: 66)Google Scholar. The many reviews of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich share a strongly expressed opinion that the novella reveals, as one reviewer put it, the “truth” of Soviet life and that Shukov represents “the Russian national character” (Kondratovich, Alexei, “In the Name of Truth,” Soviet Literature 4 [1963]: 169–71)Google Scholar. Lukács described “Solzhenitsyn's achievement” as the “transformation of an uneventful day” into “a symbol of everyday life under Stalin” and of “a typical camp” into a symbol of Soviet society (Solzhenitsyn, p. 13).Google Scholar

14. On the subtle religious overtones of One Day, see Kodjak, Andrej, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1978), pp. 3738, 4347Google Scholar; and on Solzhenitsyn's use of “several lexical categories,” particularly of skaz, see Moody, Christopher, Solzhenitsyn (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), pp. 5068Google Scholar. An (embattled) American translator of Solzhenitsyn notes that his conversational style was typically “Soviet Russian, robust, staccato, with a modern vernacular … an ancient folk proverb from the depths of rural Russian, and occasional prison camp terms” (Carlisle, Olga, Solzhenitsyn and the Secret Circle [New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1978], p. 16)Google Scholar. Reading texts in translation inevitably involves a loss that can modulate meaning - a loss that becomes particularly heavy for the critic engaged in a cross-cultural study of literary texts. Reviewers of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich disagreed categorically about the quality of the two translations into English that appeared simultaneously. See, for example, the reviews of Slonim, Marc, “The Challenge Was the Need to Stay Alive,” New York Times Book Review, 04 7, 1963, pp. 4, 34Google Scholar; Field, Andrew, “A Soviet ‘Eastern,’Partisan Review 30 (1963): 297–99Google Scholar; and Monas, Sidney, “Ehrenburg's Day, Solzhenitsyn's Day,” Hudson Review 16 (1964): 112–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar For an “evaluation of the major English translations of Solzhenitsyn's fiction” by Alexis Klimoff, see Dunlop, John B. et al. , eds., Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn: Critical Essays and Documentary Materials (Belmont, Calif.: Norland, 1973), pp. 533–42Google Scholar. As language has become crucial to theories of textuality, and textuality central to self-reflective revisionist anthropology, the issue of translation should be salient, I would think, to crosscultural critics. It was a concern to one of the founders of modern anthropology, Bronislaw Malinowski. In his diary of 1914–15, Malinowski, “noted two defects in his approach — he did not observe the people enough, and he did not speak their language” (A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term, trans. Guterman, Norbert [New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1967], p. xiv)Google Scholar. Mindful of my language deficiency, I have consulted with the distinguished translator of Slavic and Germanic literature, Professor Walter Arndt. I wish to thank Professor Arndt for commenting on passages of the English editions of Solzhenitsyn and Chukovskaya referred to in this essay. Exactness of translation seemed to me particularly crucial, for instance, to an interpretation of the ending of Sofia Petrovna, in which the words trampled and stamped appear in proximity. Professor Arndt translated the words of the Russian text as stamped (implying action that takes place more than once) and stamped out — a seemingly slight difference from the translation in the available English text (which has trampled rather than stamped), but one that connotes a similarity of actions that I find highly significant to an understanding of the end of the novella.

15. Wilhelm's qualifications are as dizzying as his nonsequiturs. “So at least he thought” supersedes “was”; “a certain amount of evidence” suggests an unusual cautious reckoning; “no, not quite,” Wilhelm admits, deferring to truth rather than perpetuating the lie with which he has been living. Looking back at his life, Wilhelm defines the past as a “story” that has had “several versions,” all concocted out of “lies.” Now, on this day of reckoning, he gives the “true events”; finally, he tells “the truth” (p. 15).

16. As fool, failure, and survivor, Wilhelm conforms to the classic Jewish character of the schlemiel. See Pinsker, Sanford, The Schlemiel as Metaphor: Studies in the Yiddish and American Jewish Novel (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1971), pp. 125–57Google Scholar, on Bellow, 's “psychological schlemiels”Google Scholar and on Wilhelm in particular (pp. 148–51). All of the characteristics of the schlemiel as a literary figure that Ruth Wisse describes apply to Wilhelm, included comic perversity and an irradicable ambivalence (Wisse, Ruth, The Schemiel as Modern Hero [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971])Google Scholar. Wisse relates the schlemiel's failure to his “refusal to be defined by others” (p. x) and his survival to a willingness to sacrifice “possessions and reputation to protect the inner self” (p. 16). See Wisse on Bellow's schlemiel, Herzog, , as “liberal humanists” (pp. 92107)Google Scholar and on the schlemiel as an historic figure (as Jew) and literary character (passim). Though he is a comic figure, Wilhelm resembles Arthur Miller's famous salesman, Willie Loman (low man), also a failure who wants to be loved, and also a character critics discuss as an American cultural icon.

17. Solzhenitsyn, Alexandr, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, trans. Parker, Ralph (New York: Signet, 1963), pp. 108, 114Google Scholar. Further references are to this edition.

18. Describing Solzhenitsyn's use of detail, Lukács, notes that “every detail presents an alternative between survival and succumbing, every object is a trigger of a salutary or destructive fate”Google Scholar (Lukács, , Solzhenitsyn, p. 20)Google Scholar. Kodjak, (Alexandr Solzhenitsyn)Google Scholar claims that in Shukov's “well-formulated strategy for survival… eating becomes almost a sacrament” (p. 29). Terence Des Pres (“The Heroism of Survival,” in Dunlop, et al. , eds., Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn)Google Scholar describes Shukov enjoying his soup as though he were receiving “the fullest beneficence of God” (p. 50). Des Pres argues that Shukov “transcended his situation,” living his day “on the edge of happiness” and achieving a desirable form of freedom (p. 51). Clearly, the views expressed by critics who see Solzhenitsyn sharing their own commitments to Soviet socialism or to Christianity need to be contextualized, though the task of judging a judgment of Solzhenitsyn seems inordinately difficult. See, for example, Dunlop on Solzhenitsyn's reception in the United States in Dunlop, et al. , eds., Solzhenitsyn in Exile: Critical Essays and Documentary Materials (Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution, 1985), pp. 2455Google Scholar, and for critical responses in other countries, see pp. 2–23 and 56–142. See also Howe on Lukács on Solzhenitsyn in Dunlop, et al. , Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, pp. 147–55.Google Scholar

19. Moody, , Solzhenitsyn, p. 42Google Scholar. Though he undercuts his own generalization, Shukov connects individual character with nationality or ethnicity. He says, for example, that he had never found any “bad eggs” among Estonians (p. 56). The novella gives a synoptic view of Soviet ethnic and social diversity. As Moody points out, the inmates in Shukov's camp “represent something of a cross-section of Soviet people, the workers, peasants, intellectuals and nationalities.… [and] the successive wave of prisoners who were sent to the camps throughout the 1930s and 1940s” (pp. 36–37). A discussion of ethnic diversity in One Day and its absence in the other novellas is beyond the scope of this essay.

20. Like Shukov and Tiurin, the old zek observes a self-imposed decorum when he eats, placing his food on a much-washed white napkin. In contrast, Wilhelm's slovenly eating habits disgust his father as they breakfast together in the hotel (p. 36). Mealtime offers another perspective on individual values and cultural patterns.

21. Kodjak (Solzhenitsyn) sees Kuziomin as a “prophet” and his sermon on survival as biblical, sounding “like the word of God” (p. 38)Google Scholar. Schmemann, Alexander, in “On Solzhenitsyn,”Google Scholar in Dunlop, et al. , Alexsandr SolzhenitsynGoogle Scholar, emphasizes “the Christian inspiration” of Solzhenitsyn's writing: “the most important, the most joyful news of the ‘miracle’ of Solzhenitsyn was that the first national writer of the Soviet period of Russian literature [Schmemann's claim for Solzhenitsyn] was at the same time a Christian writer” (pp. 38–39). Lamont says that in One Day, “the physical realm” — like “a bowl of soup” — is vested with spirituality,” so that a “man of the people” — like Shukov — becomes “his own church” (in Dunlop, et al. , Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, pp. 112–13)Google Scholar. See Tolstoya, cited below, on the “cultural taboos” in Russia that “forbid” judgment of its peasants.

22. Bellow represents the break in a graphic image of vandalism: the breaking of the stone bench that had linked the graves of Wilhelm's mother and grandmother.

23. In describing the genesis of his character, Solzhenitsyn refers to the “real Shukov,” to Gulag prisoners he knew, and to “an autobiographical element”: “I could not have described him [Shukov] if I hadn't served as a simple bricklayer in the camp” (Solzhenitsyn, , “An Interview with Nikita Struve,”Google Scholar in Dunlop, et al. , Solzhenitsyn in Exile, p. 308)Google Scholar. Solzhenitsyn attributed his “real understanding” of the work of a bricklayer to his own experience as a camp prisoner, indicating that Shukov's fictional how-to instructions are actual. Though critics have assumed that the fidelity of such details to fact contributes to, or indeed constitutes, the truth of a text, underlying questions about “fictional truth” nevertheless persist. Another persistent question pertains to Shukov's competence at his assigned work; does it signify a prisoner's will to survive or a victim's complicity with his oppressions? Viewing the victim as a social construction, Kristin Bumiller (following Bettleheim) discusses the “rationalizations” that permit oppressed people, like Shukov, to tolerate and, implicitly, help maintain their intolerable conditions (The Civil Rights Society: The Social Construction of Victims [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988], p. 36)Google Scholar. Shukov works so happily that he hardly notices the time and, in fact, he works overtime to finish a job, though his lateness places him in jeopardy. Commitment to work, which would make him an admirable Soviet citizen, may reveal him as a complicit victim. See below for references to critical dispute over how to interpret Shukov's exemplary behavior as a prisoner.

24. For a discussion of Bellow's eschatological vision in Mr. Sammler's Planet, see Gelfant, , “In Terror of the Sublime: Mr. Sammler and Odin,” Modern Fiction Notes 11 (1978)Google Scholar: item 25. For a detailed study of “the Russian view of the eskhaton” and its bearing on the form of Russian fiction from Dostoyevsky to Pasternak, see Bethea, David, The Shape of the Apocalypse in Modern Russian Fiction (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989)Google Scholar. As Bethea points out, reactions in Russia to the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster reveal the persistence of “the Russian myth” of inevitable apocalypse. Bethea discusses briefly the relation of this myth to Solzhenitsyn's novella, “Matryona's Homestead” (pp. 272–73).

25. Solzhenitsyn himself has linked Ivan Denisovich's fate with the fate of Russia. See, for example, his comments in a 1967 interview in Labedz, Leopold, ed., Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973).Google Scholar Since Lukács viewed Solzhenitsyn's novella as both preserving Soviet socialism and prefiguring social change — change that would restore original socialist ideals — its tragic “slice of life” constitutes for him “not an end but a social prelude to the future” (Solzhenitsyn, pp. 2223).Google Scholar

26. Solzhenitsyn, , “Nobel Lecture,”Google Scholar trans. Alexis Klimoff, in Dunlop, et al. , Solzhenitsyn in Exile, p. 497 (original emphasis).Google Scholar

27. For a discussion of both the illiteracy prevalent among prisoners and of prison writings, see Davies, Ioan, Writers in Prison (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1990)Google Scholar. Davies notes that though Solzhenitsyn, among others, claims that prisons shared “a common culture,” there were no universal characteristics denning either “the contexts within which prisons were located or the backgrounds from which prisoners came.” Rather than writing about a universal prison community that he may believe exists, Solzhenitsyn “knows that he is only writing about the Gulags – indeed, that he cannot write about anything else” (pp. 50–51). Franklin, H. Bruce (Prison Literature in America: The Victim as Criminal and Artist [New York: Oxford University Press, 1989])Google Scholar considers “American prison literature … very much part of American culture”; he sees a “radical” difference in “outlook” among prison writers of different times and different nationalities. At the same time, he admits that imprisonment has “common features” that transcend boundaries of time and place (pp. 235–36). Both Davies and Franklin describe inmates achieving literary and even rhetorical eloquence while in prison, and committing themselves to political ideas that empower them in the world to which they return.

28. Kodjak (Solzhenitsyn) concludes that “we may wonder whether Solzhenitsyn's characters strive for freedom” (p. 157) or whether they “seek a new authority … [that] they can trust, and perhaps worship again” (p. 158). Des Pres (“The Heroism of Survival”) argues, on the other hand, that as a “survivor,” Shukov becomes by his mere existence “a reproach to the system”; “like the saint… [he] is invested with a power that moves other men to thought and inspiration” (p. 49). Thus, Shukov would influence political change through his influence upon his readers. However, Bruno Bettleheim disagrees with Des Pres, pointing out in his study of survivors that “what the prisoner can do … is insignificant compared to the need to defeat politically or militarily those who maintain the camps – something that the prisoners, of course, cannot do” (Surviving and Other Essays [New York: Knopf, 1979], p. 289).Google Scholar

29. See, for example, the “Questions” concerning Solzhenitsyn raised by Czeslaw Milosz, specifically, the question “Is Solzhenitsyn a conservative?” – to which the answer is (as Wilhelm might have it) yes and no, depending upon the definition of the term (in Dunlop, et al. , Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, pp. 450–51Google Scholar). The explicit question points to a well-known controversy still being carried on over Solzhenitsyn's political views. Common charges are that Solzhenitsyn cannot understand American democracy and that Americans cannot understand Solzhenitsyn's deeply rooted Russian character. For a biased but not unique view of Solzhenitsyn the man, see Carlisle (Solzhenitsyn and the Secret Circle), who describes him turning into “an authoritarian figure who thought nothing of attacking those who had helped him, none more virulently than those in the West” (p. 179). In presenting his revisionist view of anthropology, Geertz finds that “it becomes profoundly unclear how individuals enclosed in one culture are able to penetrate the thought of individuals enclosed in another” (“The Way We Think Now: Ethnography of Modern Thought,” Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology [New York: Basic Books, 1983], p. 149).Google Scholar

30. Milosz, , “Questions,” p. 455.Google Scholar

31. As an idiomatic expression, to tell or “tell on” someone means to reveal and incriminate. Both writers have denned themselves as story-tellers who reveal a truth about the past that has deliberately been hidden and, in doing so, incriminate those responsible for the past and its misrepresentation. In an afterword to Sofia Petrovna (trans. Alice Worth [1967; rept. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1988], Chukovskaya declares her wish to reinstate “the true history” of Soviet life under Stalin, one which had been “replaced by fictitious history,” the state's self-serving version of events (p. 112). For an elaboration on writing as a form of “telling” in The Girl – which uses the equivalent slang word stooling – see Gelfant, Blanche H., “‘Everybody Steals’: Language as Theft in Meridel le Sueur's The Girl,” in Tradition and the Talents of Women, ed. Howe, Florence (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991), pp. 183210Google Scholar. Le Sueur tells how working people are opposed and repressed in her pieces of reportage, well known in their time (see Salute to Spring [1940Google Scholar; rept. New York: International, 1966] and Song for My Time: Stories of the Period of Repression [Minneapolis, Minn.: West End Press, 1977]). In North Star Country, she recapitulates past oppressions of Native Americans, Midwest farmers, and small-town workers. She tells also of a rich and beautiful land that was despoiled (see Gelfant, Blanche H., “Foreword” to North Star Country [Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984], pp. viixviii).Google Scholar

32. An active literary and political figure in the 1930s and 1940s, Le Sueur had gained recognition as a writer of realistic stories intensified in their power by mythic and lyric overtones, and as a journalist deeply empathetic with the struggling people about whom she wrote – strikers, impoverished farmers in the Midwest, hungry women on breadlines. In the dark time of the blacklisting, when Le Sueur was followed by F.B.I, agents and, presumably through their intervention, fired from the meager jobs she could get, Le Sueur actively resisted silencing by continuing to write, publishing as best she could in radical or communist journals and presses. As with dissident Soviet writers, many of her manuscripts remained unpublished and sequestered. For an account of Le Sueur's political radicalism, see Pratt, Linda Ray, “Woman Writer in the CP: The Case of Meridel Le Sueur,” Women's Studies 14 (1988): 247–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For recently gathered oral accounts of political harassment and blacklisting, personal stories that contextualize Le Sueur's experience, see Schultz, Bud and Schultz, Ruth, It Did Happen Here: Recollections of Political Repression in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).Google Scholar

33. Chukovskaya relates the publishing history of her novella in a prefatory Note and an Afterword to Sofia Petrovna (pp. 12, 111–20).Google Scholar According to Chukovskaya, when a promise of publication was broken, she sued for damages and won her suit. She stated in her argument “that if they stopped publishing Solzhenitsyn it would be a great shame for the country.” In answer to the publisher's defense “that after the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich the publishing house had been swamped by a torrent of prison camp books,” Chukovskaya said, “my Sofia Petrovna and his Ivan Denisovich were novellas written at different times, about different times, and on different themes; his was about the camps, mine, about ‘ordinary life’” (Afterword, p. 117).Google Scholar

34. According to Carlisle, , Chuvoskaya, had been “the most eloquent spokesman for Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn in the USSR,”Google Scholar playing “a crucial part in his survival” (footnote, Solzhenitsyn and the Secret Circle, p. 134).Google Scholar For Chukovskaya's remembrance of meetings with Solzhenitsyn at the house of her father, the celebrated critic, translator, and writer Kornei Ivanovich Chukovskii, see the excerpt “Solzhenitsyn at Peredlkino,” taken from Chukovskaya's account of her 1974 expulsion from the Soviet Writer's Union, The Process of Expulsion (in Dunlop, et al. , Solzhenitsyn in Exile, pp. 287–97).Google Scholar

35. In time, Akhamatova would entitle a sequence of poems “Requiem” (19351940)Google Scholar in remembrance of those who disappeared or died during the Great Purges. In one of the poems of the sequence, a line that describes Akhmatova's destitution as a woman “alone” specifies Sofia Petrovna's losses and those of countless Soviet women: “Husband in the grave, son in prison” (The Complete Poems of Anna Akhamatova, ed. Reede, Roberta, trans. Hemschemeyer, Judith [Somerville, Mass.: Zephyr, 1990], vol. 1, p. 101).Google Scholar In another poem, Akhmatova has become, as would Sofia Petrovna, a cipher in a crowd of women whose loved ones have disappeared in the Great Purges, a multitude in which she is “threehundredth in line” (vol. 1, p. 101).Google Scholar As Akhmatova's translator has noted, while the sequence refers to the poet's own experience in Leningrad during the time her son was imprisoned, the “you” it evokes “becomes all Russians imprisoned and tortured by their own government” (vol. 1, p. 4).Google Scholar Chukovskaya has published two volumes of memoirs of her meetings with Akhamatova during the 1930s as her way of preserving the life of the poet.

36. Sueur, Le, “Afterwords,” in The Girl (Minneapolis, Minn.: West End Press, 1978), n.p.Google Scholar

37. Chukovskaya, , “Afterword,” Sofia Petrovna, p. 111 (original emphasis).Google Scholar

38. I realize that “development is a relative concept colored by many interrelated factors, including class, history, and gender” and that “distinctive female paradigms” give the Bildungsroman a multivalence that traditional generic definitions, based upon male patterns, have overlooked (Abel, Elizabeth et al. , eds., The Voyage In: Fictions of Female Development [Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1983], pp. 4, 19).Google Scholar I discuss the crucial significance of gender in the essay “‘Everybody Steals’: Language as Theft in Meridel Le Sueur's The Girl,” and its relation to Le Sueur's appropriation of Native American cultural forms of expression in “Meridel Le Sueur's ‘Indian Poetry’ and the Question of Feminine Form,” in Woman Writing in America: Voices in Collage (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1984), pp. 7291.Google Scholar

39. Also seized and spirited away to unnamed prison camps are her son's best friend, Alik, accused of terrorism; an “esteemed doctor,” friend of Sofia Petrovna's dead husband; “an old friend” of Sofia Petrovna who “taught French … and lived just like everybody else”; Sofia Petrovna's much-beloved director and his secretary; the new director who had betrayed the old; and relatives of the countless women with whom Sofia Petrovna lines up every day in front of the prosecutor's office.

40. Neither ending is unambiguous, and both are troubling, since, as the Girl knows, winter will soon come, a season of death in which daughters, like the mythic Persephone with whom she is identified in the text, cannot remain on earth. On the “confusion” of myth, feminism, and Marxism, see Gelfant, , “‘Everybody Steals.’”Google Scholar

41. Given its daily publication of official lies, that the word pravda means truth is bitterly ironic. However, as Vera Sandomirsky Dunlap explains, modulations of meanings in the word suggest that it may portend violence: “The Russian word pravda … is not altogether synonymous with … the western word ‘truth.’ It connects rather with rectus, dexter, Justus, and has a strong undercurrent of justice and due process before God. The ancient moral meaning was revolutionized by nascent bolshevism into aggression. And truth as retaliatory social justice held the entire bolshevik ideological framework together. But that which was participatory or corporate in this principle began to ring hollow under Stalin's rule” (see In Stalin's Time: Middleclass Values in Soviet Fiction [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976], p. 74).Google Scholar Sofia Petrovna's way of reading Pravda blurs the distinction that Pierre Bourdieu has made between the “sensational” and the “informative” press in Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Nice, Richard (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984), pp. 440–51.Google Scholar Sofia Petrovna finds the newspaper's political (mis)information highly sensational, and other material soporific. A comparison between what Sofia Petrovna and the Girl reads does not show the “class distribution of newspaper reading” that Bourdieu finds in his study of cultural taste (p. 21). Both characters read what has been made available to them, so that a study of the production and distribution of newspapers might be more edifying about the novellas' cultural contexts than a consideration of consumption habits. Foucault pursues this line of inquiry in “The Discourse on Language” (in The Archaeology of Knowledge & The Discourse on Language, trans. Smith, A. M. Sheridan [New York: Pantheon, 1972])Google Scholar, hypothesizing that “in every society the production of discourse is … controlled, selected, organized, and redistributed” (p. 216).Google Scholar (Incidentally, in Solzhenitsyn's story, “For the Good of the Cause,” a seemingly sophisticated student upholds the credibility of Soviet newspapers when he asserts, like Sofia Petrovna, that “Newspapers don't make mistakes”; see Stories and Prose Poems, trans. Glenny, Michael [New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971], p. 72.)Google Scholar

42. For other references to mistakes, see pp. 72, 75, 77. Sofia Petrovna argues with her son's friend Alik, soon to be seized, that “Kolya was arrested through a misunderstanding” (p. 60).Google Scholar She fatuously tells the wife of her imprisoned director that her son “was arrested by mistake,” to which the wife replies angrily, “Here, you know, everything's by mistake” (p. 75).Google Scholar

43. See a carefully documented and important historical account of the mystique of motherhood in Hubbs, Joanna, Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).Google Scholar

44. Earlier, the Girl learns how crooked politicians stage a phony raid on the speakeasy where she works so that there will be “something to print in the paper” (p. 20).Google Scholar A persistent complaint in American history has been that while “the news” purports to be objective or true to the events it reports, it is biased and manipulative – a view succinctly summarized by Edward Said, who defined “the news” as “a euphemism for ideological images of the world that determine political reality for a vast majority of the world's population” (“Opponents, Audiences, Constituencies, and Community,” in The Politics of Interpretation, ed. Mitchell, W. J. T. [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983], pp. 732, 3132).Google Scholar

45. Newspaper had also been used to wrap the aborted fetus of the Girl's friend Belle (pp. 54, 75), thus figuring in the novella's vision of both the impossibility, as well as the possibility, of new life for its dispossessed women. (In Didion, Joan's novel Play It As It LaysGoogle Scholar, mothers similarly connect newspapers with the life and the death of children – as an improvised blanket to protect them and as a wrapping for the protagonist's aborted baby.) In noting that the Girl's lover Butch sold newspapers when he was a boy, the text evokes an almost folkloric role of newspapers in American culture as a stepping-stone to success. Newspapers also provide mindless entertainment. When the Girl is incarcerated in a women's hospital-jail she reads newspaper “funnies” (p. 132)Google Scholar donated by charity ladies. Newspapers serve various incidental purposes in the novellas. Shukov makes himself a cigarette by rolling his tobacco in a piece of newspaper. Lotte rolls a newspaper into a “truncheon” that she throws at her stepdaughter.

46. Both writers attest also to the political and moral integrity of their parents, uncompromising figures who remained faithful to social ideals that placed their lives in jeopardy. Both paid tribute to their parents in books that preserve their memory (see Sueur, Le's Crusaders [New York: Blue Heron, 1955]Google Scholar and Chukovskaya, 's To the Memory of Childhood, trans. Klose, Eliza Kellog [Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1988]).Google Scholar In her memoir of her father, a famous writer, Chukovskaya connects writing, historical memory, and culture: “What's written by the pen can't be cut out by the axe. Culture is the trail of the noble impulses of the human spirit, hardened and set, the tracks intersect, cross and lay down new roads to the future. Fearless memory preserves these tracks, defends them … sometimes from atrocity … even the tracks of atrocity must be preserved. (Otherwise people will not know that culture is not simply work, it is battle)” (p. 144, emphasis added).

47. I wish to thank Professor Darra Goldstein of Williams College for her exceedingly helpful recommendation of a number of books pertaining to modern Russian literature and life, among them, Baranskaya's “A Week Like Any Other.”

48. Baranskaya, Natalya, “A Week Like Any Other,” in A Week Like Any Other: Novellas and Stories, trans. Monks, Pieta (Seattle, Wash.: Seal, 1989), p. 13.Google Scholar Further references are given in the text. “A Week” was originally published in the U.S.S.R. in Novy Mir in 1969.Google Scholar

49. According to two of my colleagues, each kind enough to read a novella and evaluate the research project and procedures of its protagonist, the experiments of both women scientists are equally respectable; both engage in calculations that are standard, neither ground-breaking nor outmoded. My thanks to Charles L. Braun, Professor of Chemistry at Dartmouth College, and to Edward M. Berger, Professor of Biology, for graciously taking time to comment on the scientific aspects of the texts. To gauge the position that Baranskaya's heroine holds in her laboratory, as well as scientific roles of the other women characters, see Dodge, Norton T., “Women in the Professions,” in Women in Russia, ed. Atkinson, Dorothy et al. (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1977), pp. 205–24.Google Scholar

50. In her important study Women in Soviet Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978)Google Scholar, Gail Warshofsky Lapidus absorbs Baranskaya's novella into a cultural analysis of modern Soviet life by noting that it gives “direct expression” to the “findings of innumerable time-budget studies” of modern Soviet women in the “work-force” (p. 281).Google Scholar Olya's situation as a working wife and mother serves to illustrate and confirm cultural studies of women in Soviet society, and Baranskaya's portrayal is, in turn, validated as “true” and representative by these studies. In a similar way, Helena Goscilo notes that Olya's “dilemmas … [as] an educated working family woman” represent “the concrete application of … socialist theory” and confirm, and are confirmed by, “a recent survey” of Russian homelife (Goscilo, , ed., Russian and Polish Women's Fiction [Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1985], p. 22).Google Scholar For her success in managing (p. 57), Olya might also be viewed as as a modern example of “the strong woman,” a stereotype discussed in an influential essay by Vera Dunlap. Having documented the persistence of a type in “The Strong-Woman Motif,” Dunlap describes historical changes in the fictional representation of women in “The Changing Image of Women in Soviet Literature,” in Brown, Donald, ed., The Role and Status of Women in the Soviet Union (New York: Teachers College Press, 1968), pp. 6097.Google Scholar In an essay entitled “On Happiness in Recent Soviet Fiction,” (Russian Literature Triquarterly 9 [1974]: 473–85)Google Scholar, Xenia Gasiorowska discusses Olya within the context of byt, an elusive term that refers to the complex of customs that constitutes everyday life and determines woman's place within her culture. As Gasiorowska points out elsewhere, Soviet fiction often describes a struggle between old byt and the new as women seek to break out of their traditional genderized roles (Women in Soviet Fiction: 1917–1964 [Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968]).Google Scholar See also Heldt, Barbara, Terrible Perfection: Women and Russian Literature (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987)Google Scholar, for a literary and historical context within which “A Week Like Any Other” can be (in Geertz's sense of the term) described.

51. As American readers, we may not appreciate the importance of Olya's new flat, the first item on her list, a primary matter. A mock-heroic epic, The Ivankiad (1976)Google Scholar describes a monumental, comic (and not so comic) battle over an apartment, and the desire for a place to live figures in a marriage of expediency and violence in Maas, Anna's story, “Lubya's Wedding,” Russian Literature Triquarterly 9 (1974): 145–59.Google Scholar The division of her apartment into subflats turns out to have serious consequences for Sofia Petrovna once her son is arrested. Subdivided flats, new apartments, hotels, deserted warehouses (refuge for the dispossessed women of The Girl), a trailer, an old country house - the highly specified places where characters live provide “inspectable” details, other than those of this essay, for the “thick descriptions” of a cultural critique.

52. For an example of a time-budget questionnaire of the 1960s, see Sacks, Michael, Women's Work in Soviet Russia: Continuity in the Midst of Change (New York: Praeger, 1976), pp. 183–87Google Scholar; and for examples of time-budget tables drawn from such a questionnaire, see pp. 188–94. On the “methodological advantages” of time-allocation analyses, see Lapidus, , Women in Soviet Society, p. 269.Google Scholar In a recent study of American women's housework, many detailed questions were asked directly in carefully patterned interviews. For the “interview schedule,” see Gerson, Kathleen, Hard Choices: How Women Decide About Work, Career, and Motherhood (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), pp. 259–85.Google Scholar

53. As Lapidus points out in her introduction to her study of women in Soviet society, “new economic and political obligations were superimposed [by Soviet policy] on traditional feminine roles, creating for women a palpable ‘double burden’ in daily life” (Women in Soviet Society, p. 6).Google Scholar For a detailed discussion of recent Soviet policy that attempts to respond to the “contradictions in women's dual roles,” see esp. pp. 287–309. Almost all accounts of modern Soviet working women agree that they carry a “double burden.” Indeed, Mark Field, in an essay entitled “Workers (and Mothers): Soviet Women Today,” in Brown, , ed., The Role and Status of Women in the Soviet UnionGoogle Scholar, alleges that women who “work side by side with men, while at the same time carrying the burden of domestic duties and the bearing and care of children … in essence, [carry] a double, if not triple, load” (p. 8, emphasis added). See also Atkinson, et al. , Women in RussiaGoogle Scholar, particularly on “Women's Double Burden and Professional Productivity,” pp. 223–24Google Scholar; Goscilo, , Women's Fiction, pp. 2223Google Scholar; and Sites, Richard, The Women's Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism and Bolshevism, 1860–1930 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), pp. 317–45.Google Scholar In her recent account of Soviet women, Francine du Plessix Gray shows the “double burden” unrelieved. As one woman whom Gray had interviewed says, “Soviet women are not neglecting their domestic duties… we want to write our theses but we also feel we should be making pirozhki… We've been brainwashed with the notion that our state had done everything for us to reconcile the two roles, but the state hasn't begun to provide for us” (Soviet Women: Walking the Tightrope [New York: Doubleday, 1990], p. 90 [original emphasis]).Google Scholar The subtitle to Gray's book provides a metaphor for the precarious position of modern Soviet women who are trying to balance their various roles - an attempt given preeminence in the title of Goscilo, Helena's anthology, Balancing Acts: Contemporary Stories by Russian Women (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989).Google Scholar The title is inspired by a story by Anna Maas in which the narrator, a woman field anthropologist and a wife and mother, describes herself living “two dissimilar lives … proceeding along parallel lines” between which she sometimes threw a bridge that enabled her to cross over from one life to the other — a “swaying” bridge on which she had to perform a “balancing act” (“A Business Trip Home,” pp. 3738).Google Scholar On the other hand, a self-styled “cross-cultural” study of the modern woman concludes happily that her household tasks are “few and manageable,” child-rearing is neither heavy nor restricting, and apartments require “little housekeeping” (Safilios-Rothschild, Constantina, “A Cross-Cultural Examination of Women's Marital, Educational and Occupational Options,” Acta Soc 14, nos. 1–2 [1971]: 96114, p. 100).CrossRefGoogle Scholar All of this would be news to Olya.

54. Goscilo notes a general indifference among “Slavists” to feminist theories and literature (Balancing Acts, p. ix).Google Scholar She questions “simplistic assumptions about Baranskaia's feminism” (p. xi)Google Scholar and quotes Chukovskaya's dismissive attitude toward the concept of “women's literature” (p. xxiii).Google Scholar (I tend to differ with Goscilo in her interpretation of Baranskaya, 's story “The Kiss,”Google Scholar since I do not see the protagonist's decision to help her daughter rather than keep a date with a man as contrary to feminist values.) According to du Plessix Gray, a dismissive attitude toward feminism is shared by Tatyana Tolstaya, perhaps the most renowned woman writer on the contemporary Soviet scene. Tolstaya is quoted as equating feminism with goals Soviet women wish to avoid and with lesbianism, which she finds highly aversive. Gray considers Tolstaya's views typical of “the overwhelming majority of even the most progressive Soviet intellectuals” (Soviet Women, pp. 177–79, 201–2).Google Scholar (For Tolstoya's view on Stalin's Great Terror as a continuation of the “Little Terror” that she believes constitutes Russian history, see her review of Conquest, Robert's The Great Terror: A Reassessment, “In Cannibalistic Times,” New York Review of Books, 04 11, 1991, pp. 36.)Google ScholarLapidus, (Women in Soviet Society)Google Scholar believes that “if no feminist movement exists today [1978] in the USSR, it is because the women question is viewed as solved” (p. 4)Google Scholar, presumably by Soviet decree. For interesting insights into the views of contemporary British women on Soviet interpretations of “the woman question,” see Holland, Barbara, Soviet Sisterhood (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), particularly pp. 2453Google Scholar; and for a British perspective on Russian feminist movements from 1900 to 1917, see Edmondson, Linda, Feminism in Russia, 1900–17 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1984).Google Scholar On the efforts of Soviet feminists to voice their views and repressive official reactions, see Women and Russia, edited by a leading Soviet feminist, Mamonova, Tatyana (Boston: Beacon, 1984).Google Scholar

55. Heyman, Arlene, “Artifact,” in Epoch 39 (1990): 649.Google Scholar Further references are to this publication. Heyman received the Hathaway Prize for “Artifact” in 1990.Google Scholar

56. The differences in the way the women commute may influence - and in turn reflect - the way they feel about themselves. Lotte cultivates a feeling of aloneness in her car that becomes indistinguishable, finally, from self-alienation; Olya's daily contacts on the bus, where people help her jump on or hang on to her shopping bags, give her a daily sense of recognized presence. In his well-known study The Country and the City (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973)Google Scholar, Raymond Williams suggests a relationship between the feeling that modern city dwellers have of being “at once central and marginal” to their lives (Lotte's confused sense of herself) and the feelings evoked by their typical means of transportation, the automobile. To Williams, a peculiarly alienating urban “mode of relationship [is] embodied in the modern car: private, enclosed, an individual vehicle in a pressing and merely aggregated common flow” (p. 296).Google Scholar In Seize the Day, Wilhelm's car and his perversely careless way of driving project the willful disarray of his self, as well as a typical urban sense, shared by Lotte, of being alone and isolated while in the midst of others.

57. Olya's words, as she expresses her closeness to others of her sex and class, echo those of Amelia in The Girl: “You are not alone,” she tells the pregnant Girl; “You'll never be alone.” Motherhood, in Le Sueur's novel, constitutes both the sign and reality of woman's irrefrangible relationship to others, a bond that links the Girl, as a symbol of all girls who mature to womanhood, to her child, her sex, and her class. As I noted in “‘Everybody Steals,’” Le Sueur's overt celebration of motherhood does not mean her views are either unambivalent or simple, or that she considers “mothering” an activity exclusive to women.

58. Olya's haircut, hurried into during her lunch hour, inspires a subtly suggested sexual desire in her husband, who sees her as the young slim woman with whom he fell in love. Hair plays a significant symbolic role in the busy life of a middle-aged professional woman in Grevova, I.'s story “Ladies' Hairdresser” (1963)Google Scholar, in Grekova, , Russia Women: Two Stories (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983).Google Scholar The director of a Moscow computer institute and a single parent, Marya Vladimirovna Kovaleva finds no time to carry on her research, as an inner reckoning shows: “If you count in absolute, astronomic time, then I guess I'm not so terribly busy. I could grab two hours or so for research. But it doesn't work. A research problem requires total concentration, and I've got to pay attention to a thousand little trifles. I'm all over the place” (p. 24).

59. A study of scientists at work, conducted by a French philosopher and an English sociologist, concludes that scientific facts are artifacts produced by the politics of laboratory life and by the process of writing (Latour, Bruno and Woolgar, Steve, Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts [Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Library of Social Research, 1979]).Google Scholar In a modern self-reflective mode, the authors explain that they call their project “an anthropology of science” and that as “anthropologists,” they observed “the culture of the laboratory” and the processes by which the laboratory scientists produced their cultural “objects,” their so-called “hard facts” and their various documents. The end product of laboratory life turned out to be “literary” - also the end product, one might add, of an anthropology of science. Since this study focuses upon “the process of construction” that goes on in the laboratory, it displaces truth and falsity with a continuum of references to “the conditions of construction” and places facts and artifacts, both neither true nor false, in relative positions within the continuum (see, for example, p. 176).

60. Various critics have argued that the act of writing creates, rather than records, the “I” of autobiography. See, for example, Renza, Louis A., “The Veto of the Imagination: A Theory of Autobiography,” New Literary History 9 (19771978): 126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

61. In defining a difference in function between literary texts and sociological documents, Dunn, Stephen and Dunn, Ethel note that “under Soviet conditions, specifically literary material serves to alert the general public to the existence of problems, and to prepare the public psychologically for action to solve them” (The Study of the Soviet Family in the U.S.S.R. and in the West: Slavic Studies Working Paper, no. 1 [Columbus, Ohio: American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, 1977], p. 50).Google Scholar This may not seem a distinction to postmodern critics, but rather an erasure of difference that turns a text into a document.

62. For discussions of the American Constitution as a “literary text” (rather than a document), see Ferguson, Robert, “We Do Ordain and Establish: The Constitution as Literary Text,” William and Mary Law Review 29 (1987): 325Google Scholar; and Weisberg, Richard, “Text into Theory: A Literary Approach to the Constitution,” Georgia Law Review 20 (1986): 934–94.Google Scholar

63. “An essay is a trial effort, a tentative exploration,… a report of qualified findings,” Arthur Danto notes in a review that ends with a reference to Abelard's Sic et non, quoted in a contemporary book of essays that, Danto writes approvingly, is filled with “qualification, extenuation, and exception” (see Danto, , “Are We Cracking Under the Strain?: A Review of Modernity on Endless Trial, by Leszek Kolakowski,” New York Times Book Review, 12 23, 1990, pp. 1, 22).Google Scholar

64. Distinctions between these categories - the true and false - have also been construed as social constructions. See, for instance, Foucault, , “The Discourse on Language,” pp. 219–20Google Scholar and passim.

65. As the essay notes, Bellow transmogrifies the Hotel Ansonia into surreal images that change with the weather (and with Wilhelm's premonitions of drowning). In contrast to a real hotel that turns surreal, the Hotel Gloriana, where Wilhelm is spending his last day, refers to the phantasmagoric place of Spencer, 's Fairie Queene.Google Scholar As the essay has also noted, the novella and its befuddled salesman, both unmistakably American in their circumstances, draw upon English literature, so heavily that the matrix of literary allusions could provide grounds for a cultural analysis. Wilhelm's literary education in New York schools has steeped him in English poetic tradition, a matter that may strike the contemporary reader as quizzical. One could approach a cross-cultural study by considering literary influences that transcend boundaries of time and place, such as those of genre (mentioned in the second panel) and those of one writer upon another. Bellow has expressed his admiration for the great Russian novelists of the 19th Century and, clearly, patterned his first novel, Dangling Man, upon Dostoyevsky, 's Notes from Underground.Google Scholar Solzhenitsyn has declared his indebtedness to, and difference from, the American writer, Passos, John Dos (“An Interview with Nikita Struve,”Google Scholar in Dunlop, et al. , Solzhenitsyn in Exile, pp. 314–16).Google Scholar Solzhenitsyn notes that he “got to know his [Dos Passos's] writing in a rather original setting - the Lubianka prison” (p. 314).

66. The introduction (if only in a footnote) of nationality as a context or a concept relevant to this essay sets artifact within yet another discourse. In Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1989)Google Scholar, Benedict Anderson describes nationality and nation-ness as “cultural artefacts” produced by “discrete historical forces” and preserved by a “variety of political and ideological constellations” (pp. 1314).Google Scholar Anderson's analogy between a nation as an “imagined community” and the world of a novel or of a newspaper (pp. 31, 37, passim) creates a context for a critical discussion of the novellas in the second panel in particular and generally of realistic novels written in and about different countries.

67. In Rethinking Intellectual History: Texts, Contexts, Language (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983)Google Scholar, LaCapra, Dominick asks, “What is meant by the term ‘text’?” (p. 26)Google Scholar, a question that raises for him issues of how properly to read and interpret texts and how to avoid an hypostatization of context. Arguing that a text is “the scene of an interplay between different forces,” he adds that “context itself would have to been seen as a text of sorts” - a view that leads him to propose a reversed intertextual reading in which the “text itself” would provide a “model for the reconstruction of the ‘larger context’” (pp. 116–17).Google Scholar

68. Bizarrely enough, Nancy Reagan's hat (an imagined hat) has been used to introduce a detailed review of “feminist thinking about representation” and the “collapse of a feminist consensus” in Stimpson, Catharine, “Nancy Reagan Wears a Hat: Feminism and Its Cultural Consensus (1987),” in Where the Meanings Are: Feminism and Cultural Spaces (New York: Routledge, 1988), pp. 179–96Google Scholar, here p. 179. (I note parenthetically that one needs to question whether there ever was a contemporary feminist consensus to collapse.) Nancy Reagan's imagined hat, like Shukov's and Wilhelm's, has no existence as a “real” object that can be contextualized within actual historical circumstances. However, there is a real hat that has “in fact” exerted significant historical influence, contributing to the formulation of fundamental American constitutional rights. For a man's “right to wear his hat if he pleased” was an important issue in debates over the precise wording of the First Amendment. The hat and the issues it entailed recalled to members of the newly formed United States legislature the 1670 trial of William Penn in England's Old Bailey. In this trial, considered a notorious example of “judicial tyranny,” Penn had been held in contempt for wearing a hat he was told to put on after he had taken it off to show proper respect in court. The main charge against Penn had been unlawful and tumultuous assembly, a charge brought to prevent Penn from preaching Quaker doctrine, that is, to limit speech. In opposing a move to exclude from the First Amendment a clause explicitly granting Americans the right of assembly, Congressman John Page of Virginia refuted claims that the clause was “trivial… no more essential than whether a man has a right to wear his hat or not.” Page argued that just as “a man [Penn] had been obliged to pull off his hat when he appeared before the face of authority; [so] people have also been prevented from assembling together on their lawful occasions.” For a detailed account of how William Penn's hat figured significantly in the framing of American constitutional rights, see Brant, Irving, The Bill of Rights: Its Origin and Meaning (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), pp. 5461.Google Scholar

69. Geertz, , “Thick Descriptions,” p. 29.Google Scholar

70. In effect, this critical tritypch has been transformed into a polyptych by blocks of notes which, like the subordinate panels that traverse the lower margin of a triptych's panels, narrate subsidiary stories.

71. I can only suggest differences in the gender relationships that Baranskaya and Heyman have dramatized in their novellas. Such relationships would provide yet another context for a cross-cultural critique of literary texts. In an analysis of the intertwining of gender and work in American households, Sarah Fenstermaker Berk provides a conceptual framework for comparing characters in American and Russian texts, such as those in the third panel (The Gender Factory: The Apportionment of Work in American Households [New York: Plenum, 1985]).Google Scholar While household work imposes a double burden on Olya, a drawback of work without marriage and home is the emptiness a woman may ultimately face, as Baranskaya suggests in her story, “The Retirement Party,” trans. Forostenko, Anatole, Russian Literature Triquarterly 9 (1974): 136–59.Google Scholar

72. Even this point can be - and has been - disputed. In an interview published in 1976, Michel Foucault responded to the interviewer's claim that “there has been a certain amount of change in the Soviet Union,” by arguing that an abatement of “the reign of terror” was inherent in the Soviet system and signified its continuity rather than its disintegration (“The Politics of Crime,” trans. Horwitz, Mollie, Partisan Review 43 [1976]: 453–59Google Scholar, here p. 458). In the same interview, Foucault disintegrated the boundaries between bourgeois and Soviet “forms of social control,” including imprisonment: “the mechanisms of power in the Soviet Union - systems of control, surveillance, punishment - are versions of those used … by the bourgeoisie as it struggled to consolidate its power” (pp. 455, 459).

73. Taking issue with Geertz, LaCapra argues, for example, for the categorization of culture into various cultures: “official culture, high or elite culture, mass culture, and popular culture” (Soundings in Critical Theory [Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989], p. 135)Google Scholar, to which can be added “political culture.” Following this classification, one could discuss the newspapers that Sofia Petrovna reads within the context of official or state culture, and the newspaper “funnies” that the Girl reads within the context of mass culture. The distinction is apropos, though it may merely reformulate obvious structural differences between American and Soviet Russian society. Underlying arguments over the proper definition(s) of culture are questions about representation, its legitimacy and limits, complex questions that emerge, change, and elicit different responses with the passage of historical time. Writing in the 1980s, Clifford, James concludes in Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986)Google Scholar, that the “criteria for judging a good account [of a culture] has never been settled and are changing” (p. 9).Google Scholar He traces change and lack of consensus to a proliferation of theories revolving around “the limits of representation itself” (p. 10).Google Scholar

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Days of Reckoning in Russian and American Novellas: A Cross-Cultural Triptych
Available formats
×

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Days of Reckoning in Russian and American Novellas: A Cross-Cultural Triptych
Available formats
×

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Days of Reckoning in Russian and American Novellas: A Cross-Cultural Triptych
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *